On the surface, there's no connection between Mexico's bloody drug war and the bridge that reaches across the Hoover Dam. No seeming commonalities in a monumental architectural achievement and the battles of an international narcotics market. In fact, without Blue Sky Gallery's February photo exhibitions, it's hard to imagine these topics falling in the same sentence. But here we are: David Rochkind's Heavy Hand, Sunken Spirit (exploring Mexico's drug economy) and Jamey Stillings' The Bridge at Hoover Dam (documenting the bridge's construction). As odd as the couple might sound, each reveals a bit of the other's defining characteristics.
Heavy Hand, Sunken Spirit is a survey of Mexico's drug trade, oscillating through the social wreckage generated by militant traffickers, ineffectual law enforcement, and communities caught in the middle. Rather than expose the manufacturing or transportation of drugs, Rochkind's photos focus on their many-rippled aftershocks. "Heroin" shows a woman covered in bruises, shooting up into her leg. Sitting on the bed behind her, a child. "The Missing #2" relates a somber, no-frills wall of photographs, each with the face of a missing person. In shots of emotionally detached prostitutes and gory bodies piled after execution, Heavy Hand lives up to its name—and while there are hints of hopefulness in religion and tradition, by and large the collection is a grim one.
Meanwhile, Stillings' The Bridge at Hoover Dam encapsulates the final two years of the seven-year Hoover Dam Bypass project—zeroing in on the construction of a four-lane highway bridging Arizona and Nevada above the Colorado River. Through dizzying aerial views and looming, on-the-ground grandeur, Stillings captures the labor by which hulking, symmetrical arcs of concrete and steel grow toward one another from parallel cliffs, eventually meeting to form a functional piece of infrastructure.
Side by side, Hoover Dam and Heavy Hand spark a quiet conversation about our efforts to tame nature. On one hand, we have the orderly leap across the canyon, defying a harsh, mountainous landscape. On the other, a messy clash between power and greed, rooted in the regulation of pleasure. In the middle is a message: It's not that we can't overcome certain undesirable aspects of nature or human behavior, it's that the cost of our attempts to do so can at times outweigh the benefit.